Ramey professes little concern over the aircraft’s future. Work orders at his shop remain steady, he reports. “We are all just caretakers of these treasures,” he says. “If we do our jobs right, the aircraft will live for many future generations to enjoy long after we are gone and forgotten.”
Matt Walker is too preoccupied to ponder such thoughts just now. He’s prepping his favorite Beech 18 for flight. N1828D was once owned by the company that made Lay’s potato chips. Walker found it in 1992, sitting all but abandoned at a parachute drop zone outside Kapowsin, Washington. The airplane had not been flown in 11 years, and owls had converted the fuselage into condos. Walker spent 18 months restoring the airplane to airworthiness. He used to take skydivers up in it. Now he mostly flies it for pleasure, and to wing him and his wife between their homes in Henderson, Nevada, and southern California.
As spectators gather on the ramp at Chino, Walker energizes the right boost pump, cracks the throttle, and sets the friction lock. Then he simultaneously thumbs the primer and starter buttons, keeping a close eye on fuel, oil, and temperature gauges.
“C’mon, baby,” he coaxes the hulking 450-horsepower Pratt & Whitney right engine. Then he starts up the left. The Twin Beech’s powerplants protest at first, coughing and sputtering like old men roused from sleep, before roaring to life, a defiant shout at history.
David Freed is a pilot, novelist, and former Los Angeles Times reporter. His latest mystery-thriller, Fangs Out, will be released in May.